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Title: Między poezją a polityką : rozgrywki polityczne w Skandynawii XI wieku w świetle poezji ówczesnych skaldów
Authors: Morawiec, Jakub
Keywords: poezja skaldów; skaldowie; literatura skandynawska
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Katowice : Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego
Abstract: The following monograph touches upon the political landscape of Scandinavia in the 11th century as seen through the lens of skaldic poetry of that time. That particular period of time bore witness to numerous significant economic, cultural and political changes (e.g. Christianization, centralization of the monarchy). In turn, those processes found their reflection in propagandist and ideological efforts for which the skaldic poetry was the primary vehicle. The monograph, therefore, aims at a holistic analysis and discussion of the political changes in Scandinavia in the 11th century, filtered through the lens of 11th century skaldic poetry. This comprehensive approach allows to better understand the conditions in which the skalds, who remained in service of their lords, lived and created their works. Moreover, it facilitates a discussion concerning the extent to which skaldic court poetry allows us to more comprehensively understand the meanders of the political situation of that time. The presented arguments are based upon a thorough analysis of skaldic poetry which references important political events of the discussed period. The vast majority of those poems were composed by skalds who served particular rulers and comprised parts of their households. Despite the fact that the referenced works of poetry as well as individual stanzas were preserved due to the development of writing in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, the projected aim of research required further analysis of the particular stanzas and verses, beyond the narrative context in which they function. This approach seems particularly justified in the context of court poetry, which boasts a much more established tradition with regard to the content, length and attribution of the particular verses. The monograph is divided into two parts. The first part discusses skaldic poetry as a genre as well as the different aspects of its functioning, particularly those which influenced the courtly life of skalds. The first chapter describes in detail a vast variety of problems concerning composition and stylistic elements in skaldic poetry; preservation of poetry in Scandinavian medieval writing; the social and political status of poets and the ideological importance of their works; the current state of research on the authenticity of poetry, especially that dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries as well as its use in historical research. Chapter two, in turn, touches upon the ideological basis of skaldic poetry, which had enormous impact on the style and rhetoric of the composed works. On the one hand, it was heavily informed by the pagan mythological heritage, particularly the myth of the Mead of Poetry and Odin’s protection; on the other hand, it was influenced by Christianity, whose arrival and subsequent dissemination in medieval Scandinavia significantly impacted the status of poets as well as the status of their works. Chapter three discusses those elements of skaldic court poetry which can be attributed to the hieros gamos ideology – that of the sacred royal marriage. Thus, the reflections presented in this chapter touch upon the heavily discussed problem of sacralization of the royal power in Scandinavia in the early Middle Ages as well as the role that skaldic poetry might have played in that process. Furthermore, the fact that the poetic style connected with hieros gamos is also present in poems written at the courts of Christian rulers and composed by baptized poets, testifies to the complexity of the issue. This phenomenon, moreover, attests not only to the status of the ruler, but also to the artistic formation of the skalds, who based their oeuvre in parts on the works of their predecessors. Chapter four is devoted to elegiac poetry, written in order to commemorate the rulers after their death. Poems classified as erfikvæði are distinguished on the basis of a set of characteristic stylistic features, which have been previously discussed. Those characteristics point to the fact that the commemoration of the late ruler constituted also a vehicle for promoting the person of the skald as well as his talent at the court of the ruler’s successor. In chapter five, the monograph discusses those skalds whose poetic oeuvre served as the basis for the analysis conducted in the following parts of the monograph. The scope of information on the particular poets varies significantly: from Sigvat Þorðarson or Arnór Þorðarson, whose lives and careers are relatively well-known, to Gráni, a skald at the court of Harald Hardrada, who remains an almost complete mystery up until this day. The second part of the book touches upon selected events in the political landscape of Scandinavia in the 11th century, seen through the lens of the skaldic poetry of that time. The first chapter is devoted to poems describing the unrest in Øresund in the year 1000, which resulted in the death of the king of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, and lead to Sweyn Forkbeard’s rise to power across all Scandinavia. The poetic rendition of the battle seemingly focuses upon the personal rivalry between Olaf and the jarl Eric of Hlaðir. Nonetheless, there is strong evidence of the fact that the memory of that battle and its circumstances served to define the relationship between the jarls of Hlaðir, Sweyn Forkbeard and Canute the Great, contributing to the creation of the ideological background for their joint efforts in England in 1015–1017 ad and Norway in 1028–1030 ad. In chapter two, the author discusses the way Olaf Haraldsson’s reign in Norway is portrayed in poems written for him both before and after his death. The life and reign of Olaf are shrouded in mystery. However, skaldic poems written at that time, primarily those by Sigvat Þorðarson – even though they do not bring definitive answers to all possible questions – allow additional (and invaluable) insight into Olaf ’s political decisions. One of the most interesting observations stemming from in-depth analysis of these poems is the fact that, despite the long-established accounts concerning the missionary activity of Olaf Haraldsson, that aspect of his life is almost completely absent from the poetry of that time, and a radical change can be seen only after the battle of Stiklastaðir and is connected presumably with actions aimed at further dissemination of his worship. Chapter three is concerned with poetry whose main topic is the conquest of England by Canute the Great in 1015–1017 ad. What is particularly intriguing is the fact that the skalds in service of the King of England and Denmark consistently returned to those events time and time again, even after more than a decade had passed since the conquest, and Canute’s reign in England was already established, while Canute himself made continuous efforts to not only legitimize his rule, but also to keep the memory of the victims of the Vikings’ raids on England alive. In addition to that, according to the skalds’ interpretation, the conquest of England by Canute was not perceived as a way of gaining the royal power, but rather it constituted a direct manifestation of that power. That interpretation was presumably dictated by Canute’s plans concerning Norway as well as the threat from Normandy, where legitimate heirs to the throne of England still lived at that time. Chapter four is devoted to poetry connected with the earliest beginnings of the worship of St. Olaf in Norway as well the political dimension of that phenomenon. The proclamation of Olaf Haraldsson as a saint and a formal transfer of his body to the St. Clement church took place during the Danish reign of Svein Knutsson and his mother Ælfgifu of Northampton, and it was presumably meant to strengthen the position of the heir of Canute the Great in the kingdom. However, that political move did not yield the desired results. In fact, poetry dedicated to Magnus the Good and Harald Hardrada, the son and the step-brother of Olaf, respectively, indicates that the control over St. Olaf ’s worship was successfully assumed by the local dynasty, and the familial ties as well as the fact that they followed Olaf ’s example was supposed to define the royal status of his relatives and heirs. Chapter five touches upon the feud between Harald Hardrada and the King of Denmark, Sweyn Ulfsson. It would appear that the grounds for this prolonged conflict that lasted almost two decades consisted in a mutual desire to neutralize the military and political power of the opponent and successfully eliminate him from any actions which could lead to a potential weakening of the king’s position in his own kingdom. Therefore, their actions remained primarily defensive in nature, a fact which finds its reflection in numerous references in poetry dedicated to both Harald and Sweyn up until Götaälv. The surviving poetry composed for the King of Norway indicates the great hopes for the ultimate destruction of Sweyn’s military power following the victory at the battle of Nissan. The lack of opportunity for fulfilling those plans not only influenced the plans for peace on both sides, but also brought about a radical change in attitude among the poets describing those events. Chapter six describes the perspective of skaldic poets on the English invasion of Harald Hardrada in September, 1006 ad, which resulted in defeat and the ultimate death of the king at Stamford Bridge. This event was commemorated in only three poems, which seems extremely significant in and of itself. The circumstances of Harald’s defeat seemed to be, presumably, shameful enough for the King of Norway that none of the skalds was able to praise the fallen king’s glory in the context of that battle, as opposed to his earlier victories. Arnór Þorðarson’s description can be seen rather as a subtle criticism of Harald, and there are many reasons to believe that he was not alone in his opinion. One of the best examples to support that theory is the poem by Stein Herdísarson, who describes Olaf Kyrre, son of Harald, who also took part in the campaign. The skald, in an attempt to praise the heroic deeds of the young king as well as his strong bond with his father, decided to depict the events of the battle of Fulford Bridge, in which the Norwegians triumphed over the English. On the other hand, however, the poem says nothing of the defeat at Stamford Bridge, and there are many reasons to assume that, in order to respect Harald’s memory as well as strengthen the position of his sons and heirs, it had been deemed better that the battle be forgotten completely and fade into obscurity. Chapter seven is devoted to the way Magnus Barefoot’s reign in Norway was presented in skaldic poetry composed at his court. The sagas paint him as a spiritual successor to Harald Hardrada, and there are numerous reasons to believe that Magnus himself wanted to emulate his grandfather’s reign. The relative lack of stability regarding his place on the throne, especially in the first years of his reign, forced Magnus to increase his military actions, which, in turn, was reflected in the poetry of that time. The court poets were expected not only to emphasize the royal status and attributes of Magnus, but also his exceptional political and military prowess in comparison to the other rulers. This trend can be noticed especially with regard to the battle of Anglesey – virtually irrelevant politically – and the efforts to paint the king as the slayer of Earl Hugh of Montgomery. Similarly to Magnus himself, his skalds also drew abundantly from the excellent works of Harald Hardrada’s poets, particularly Þjóðólf Árnórsson. In fact, it is quite probable that the king himself, wanting to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, sought out poets whose talent and attitude could emulate the spirit of those times.
ISBN: 9788380128125
Appears in Collections:Książki/rozdziały (W.Hum.)

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